Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Tell Your Kids the Truth About Santa

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“For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” (John 17:38)

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” (3 John 4)  

This year my son turned four and he’s really starting to get excited about Christmas. He’s also beginning to understand many of the traditions, myths and stories. My wife and I decided early on that we would tell our kids the truth about Santa Claus, presents, reindeer and how all those things were “fun to pretend,” but that they were not the real reason for the season. We have stressed that Christmas is about worshipping Jesus and celebrating His birth. We did this because we didn’t want our kids coming back to us when they got older saying, “Why did you lie to us and how can we trust you about the things you taught us about Jesus?”   

My explanation to my son went like this: “Santa was a real, historical person who loved God. He was kind and generous. His real name was Nicholas and he did give gifts to people in need. But, he died along time ago and Christmas is not really about him, it’s about God becoming a baby to save us. God gave us the most precious gift when He sent Jesus to this earth.” Daniel nodded and said, “Yeah. Jesus. He died on the cross.” Out of the mouths of babes!

Actually, the real story about Nicholas is quite intriguing and important to church history. Nicholas was born sometime around 280 AD in what is modern-day Turkey to a wealthy Christian couple. When his parents died during a plague, nine-year-old Nick was left with an incredible sum of money.  When he became an adult, Nick donated much of his resources to the feed the poor and take care of the needy in his hometown.

Nicholas is most notably remembered for helping the family of a nobleman in Patara who had gone bankrupt. Ruthless creditors not only took the nobleman’s property, but also threatened to take his three beautiful daughters as well. The father’s only hope was to marry off his daughters before the creditors could take them, thereby saving them from a life of slavery and prostitution. Unfortunately, he did not have money for the girls’ dowries, which were necessary for them to marry. Nicholas heard of this dilemma and late one night threw a bag of coins in the family’s window to save the daughters. When Nicholas threw the money, a few coins supposedly landed in one of the daughter’s stockings that she had set out by the fireplace to dry. Thus, began the tradition of gifts in stockings.

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Nicholas grew to be a well-loved Christian leader and was eventually voted the Bishop of Myra, a port city that the apostle Paul once visited (Acts 27:5-6). However, to be a Christian during this time was dangerous business. In 303 AD, the Roman emperor, Diocletian, issued a formal edict to destroy all Christian churches, burn the Scriptures and imprison or kill those who preached Christ. The storm of persecution which led to the deaths of hundreds of Christians, eventually reached Myra. Despite threats of imprisonment Bishop Nicholas continued to preach boldly the deity of Jesus. He was soon seized by torturers and confined to prison for several years. Nicholas was beaten and tortured for his faith, but remained strong.  

As providence would have it, Constantine eventually took the seat of power over the Roman Empire. Shortly after his ascension to the throne, in 313 AD Constantine supposedly converted to Christianity and issued the Edict of Toleration, officially giving Christianity tolerance throughout the Empire. Constantine ordered the release of those imprisoned for Christ, and so Nicholas was granted his freedom.   

Afterward, Nicholas traveled to the Council of Nicaea, where he helped defend the deity of Jesus Christ in 325 AD. The council ended the “Arian heresy,” which demoted Jesus to a “less-than-God” status. During the debates Nicholas became so enraged with Arius for formulating his detestable doctrines that he slapped the heretic in the face!

Nicholas died in 343 AD and was canonized into sainthood by the Catholic Church.

Now I ask you, which version of the story is more exciting—the preacher who was persecuted for his faith or the guy who comes down the chimney bearing gifts? Why don’t Christians tell their kids about the real Nicholas—a man who preached Christ, suffered for his faith, and smacked down heretics—rather than the fairy tale version invented by marketing gurus?

Use the mall Santa as an opportunity to tell children about the godly qualities of the real Nicholas, who dedicated his life to serving others and was an example of Christian character.

Sources

1.      William J. Federer, There Really Is a Santa Claus (New York: Amerisearch, 2003).

2.      Max Lucado, And the Angels Were Silent (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1987), 81. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Interruption or Invitation?

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Police officers will often tell you there’s no such thing as a routine call when you’re patrolling the streets. But when Albuquerque police officer Ryan Holets responded to a possible theft at a nearby convenience store, it had all the hallmarks of a mundane assignment he could quickly clear from the call log. But, it didn't turn out that way.

As Ryan left the convenience store on September 23, 2017 he noticed out of the corner of his eye a couple sitting on the grass against a cement wall. It appeared the man and woman were shooting up heroin in broad daylight behind the convenience store. Ryan turned on his body camera and approached the couple but he wasn’t prepared for what he saw. The woman was in the middle of injecting a needle into her companion’s arm. Then he noticed the woman was pregnant. “It's not every day I see a sight like that and it just made me really sad,” Ryan said.

Crystal Champ, 35, looked slightly dazed and agitated in the body camera footage as you hear Ryan begin to scold her. She told the officer that she was almost 8 months pregnant and addicted. “You're going to kill your baby,” Ryan is heard saying on the bodycam footage.

In the course of the conversation, Champ told Ryan that she desperately hoped someone would adopt her baby. Champ says the words triggered a change in the officer’s demeanor. “He became a human being instead of a police officer,” Champ said. Ryan made the call to not charge the couple with drug possession, but he couldn't shake the voice in his mind telling him that this was his chance to help and truly make a difference.

Ryan showed Champ a picture of his wife and four children, including a 10-month old baby and in that moment offered to adopt her baby. “I was led by God to take the chance,” Ryan said. “God brought us all together. I really don't have any other way to explain it.” Champ was stunned and says she looked at him to “make sure his eyes were genuine and that I could see his soul.” Later, Ryan’s wife Rebecca told reporters, “We feel God has called us to do this.”

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When the baby was born in October 2017 the Holets decided to name her, “Hope” and she will spend her first Christmas with her new family.[1]

What Officer Ryan Holet did in that split-second decision to adopt Hope made me think of Mary’s surrender to the angelic announcement that she would be the mother of the Messiah.

34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” 35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God . . . 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.” 38 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:34-38)

In both Mary and Ryan’s situation a baby changed everything. I think what we can learn from this is that God’s invitations, often appear as interruptions. How much more inconvenient can you get than a baby being dropped into the middle of your life? God interrupted Mary’s life with an incredible opportunity. Yes, there would be adversity and heartache, but the blessing of playing a role in God’s salvation story far outweighed the trouble. It takes faith to surrender to the plan of God, especially when it’s going to involve a new set of challenges and unknowns. But if we say “Yes” to God's interruption, there is no telling what good He will bring from it.

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-DM  





[1] Ed Lavandera and Jeremy Harlan, “Police Officer Adopts Homeless Mother’s Opioid-Addicted Newborn,” CNN, 3 December 2017 <http://www.cnn.com/2017/12/01/health/police-officer-adopts-homeless-opioid-newborn-btc-beyond-the-call-of-duty/index.html> 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Life After Death Row

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60 Minutes headlined the story of Ray Hinton—an Alabama man who sat on death row for 30 years waiting his execution. However, in 2016 he was exonerated because of new evidence that emerged. In order to understand Hinton’s story, we have to go back to 1985. Ray was misidentified by a witness who picked him out of a mug shot book. His picture was in there after a theft conviction. When police found a gun in his mother’s house, a lieutenant told him that he’d been arrested in three shootings including the murders of two restaurant managers.

Hinton was wrongfully convicted at age 30. He remembers, too vividly, the Alabama electric chair and the scent that permeated the cell block when a man was met by 2,000 volts. He was 57 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 9 to zero that his defense had been ineffective. A new ballistics test found that the gun was not the murder weapon. All the charges against Hinton were dropped, but sadly the State did nothing to help Ray get back up on his feet, much less compensate him for lost earnings.

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Ray Hinton 

During the interview with Ray, a reporter asked him, “Are you angry?” and here is how he responded, “They took 30 years of my life. What joy I have left I cannot afford to give that to them. And so being angry would be letting them win. In a way I would still be in prison. I don’t want to spend what little time I have left wasting it on hating people and events I can’t change.”[1]

What a response! Ray’s answer to injustice reminded me of the painful ordeal that Joseph went through. You remember, Joseph—Jacob’s favored son with the technicolor coat. His eleven envious brothers plotted to stage his death. He was thrown into a pit and sold to slave traders bound for Egypt. While in Egypt he rose to prominence as the master over Potiphar’s house. Things looked great for Joe, but then Mrs. Potiphar made a move on Joe and he resisted her seduction. The jilted lady got her revenge on Joe by concocting a story that he tried to rape her. As a result, Joseph was wrongfully convicted and thrown into an Egyptian prison (Gen. 37-40).  

From an earthly perspective the Egyptian jail was the tragic conclusion of Joseph’s life. Satan could chalk up a victory for the dark side. All of God’s plans to use Joseph seemed to end with the slamming of the jail door. The Enemy had Joe right where he wanted him, but so did God.

Consider the insight of the Psalmist, “17 Joseph, who was sold as a slave. 18 His feet were hurt with fetters; his neck was put in a collar of iron; 19 until what he [God] had said came to pass,
the word of the Lord tested him.” (Ps. 105:17-19). Don’t miss that last part. God was using the prison for something greater in Joseph’s life. No doubt, God used that experience to humble His man.  

As a boy Joseph was prone to softness. Jacob spoiled him. Joseph talked about his dreams and ambitions. A bit too full of himself, perhaps. Even in Potiphar’s house Joseph was the darling of the estate. Quickly promoted, often noticed. Success came easily. Perhaps, pride did as well. If so a prison term would purge that. God knew the challenges that lay ahead, and He used Joseph’s stint in the slammer to make him a better man.

Max Lucado adds, “If you see your troubles as nothing more than isolated hassles and hurts, you’ll grow bitter and angry. Yet, if you see your troubles as tests used by God for His glory and your maturity, then even the smallest incidents take on significance . . . If God can make a prince out of a prisoner, don’t you think he can make something good out of your mess? If you allow it this test will become your testimony. Your mess can become your message. Rather than ask God to change your circumstances, ask Him to use your circumstances to change you.”[2] -DM  



[1] Scott Pelley, “Life After Death Row,” CBS: 60 Minutes, 10 January 2016 <https://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-life-after-death-row-exoneration/>
[2] Max Lucado, You’ll Get Through This (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 45-55. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Holy Spirit and Thanksgiving

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Have you ever noticed the connection between thanksgiving and the Holy Spirit? Thanksgiving is trinitarian. Thanksgiving flows to God the Father, through God the Son, from the Holy Spirit.

In Eph. 5:18-21 we read, “18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul gives us an interesting analogy, comparing the filling of the Holy Spirit in a believer’ life, with a person who has come under the influence of alcohol. The analogy goes something like this—what the influence of alcohol does to the body negatively, the influence of the Spirit does for the believer positively. While alcohol is a depressant, the Spirit is an enabler. Drunkenness has side effects—slurred speech, slowed reaction time, confusion—and in the same way, being filled with the Spirit has side effects—singing, praising, transformation and thanksgiving!    

Why does the Spirit of God produce thanksgiving? Because according to Gal. 5:22 one of the fruits of the Spirit is joy. Moreover, Jesus reiterated in John 15:10-11, “10 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit . . . 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

My son Daniel is an adventurous four-year-old. When I am out in the garden working he likes to be there right alongside helping in his own way. If I have the garden hose out watering the plants he always comes us with his plastic bucket and he says, “Fill me too Daddy!” So, I fill up his little bucket and off he goes to make mud. What is funny is watching him try to carry that bucket full of water. He can hardly carry it without sloshing and splashing water along the way. Then when he’s done he comes back and says it again, “Fill me too Daddy!”

That’s the way the Spirit of God works in us. We can come to the Heavenly Father in worship and say, “Fill me too Daddy!” and God fills our little thimble with His Pacific Ocean sized reservoir of joy. We can never exhaust His endless supply. And as we go about our lives the super-abundant joy of God is meant to spill over and touch others.  

G.K Chesterton remarks at the end of his book Orthodoxy, “Joy, which is the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian.”[1] Joy and thanksgiving go together like turkey and dressing and they are signs that the Holy Spirit calls your heart home. -DM  



[1] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Mineola, NY: Dover, 2004), 153. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Sleeping Saints

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Let’s be honest—at some point in your church life you’ve nodded off during the sermon. I can remember vividly one time as a kid, I had stayed up late the night before and I was sitting in church struggling to stay awake. I could feel myself losing the battle, as my head was bobbing I would catch myself and awaken for a few seconds. I did this for several minutes, until I went down for the count. My head leaned forward and “thump!” My forehead nailed the pew in front of me. I jolted awake again and quickly looked around to see if anyone saw it – of course, my mom did who sitting beside me. I think she had hard time not laughing out loud.

It’s interesting as a preacher because I see the ugly (and sometimes hilarious) reality of sleeping saints from the pulpit. I have witnessed bobbing heads, closed eyes and open, yawning mouths, on occasion a snore or two. When I first started preaching, it bothered me, but then I realized that it also happened to one of the greatest preachers of all time and I felt some consolation.

In Acts 20 we have a passage that is certainly eye-opening. While preaching in the Greek city of Troas, Paul encountered a sleeping saint named Eutychus. The young man was precariously perched in a third-story window when his eyes slammed shut, and he fell to his death.

As I studied this story, I started thinking about how Eutychus is an object lesson about sleeping saints. The sad reality is that in a spiritual sense there is a Eutychus sitting in every church. The Eutychus Effect happens when someone is present physically, but spiritually they are asleep.

In fact, the Bible is full of sleeping saints who checked out for various reasons, and like Eutychus they had a great fall. Consider Jonah, God’s prodigal prophet who said, “No” when God said, “Go.” The Bible says that when Jonah got on the boat to flee to Tarshish that he went down into the cabin and fell asleep (Jonah 1:5). Meanwhile, God sent a terrible storm to get the attention of Jonah and awaken him! Jonah snored while the thunder roared! Reminds me of a Vance Havner quote, “Most Christians live so far below the standard, you would have to backslide to be in fellowship with them.” It’s a dangerous place when the child of God is so backslid they can’t hear the voice of God.  

Samson also fell asleep while resting his head in the lap of Delilah. While He-man slept, Delilah betrayed him and cut his hair, which was the sign of his commitment to God. When Samson awoke the Bible says He did not know that his hair had been cut and that the presence of the Lord had left him (Judges 16). Sin and compromise with the world gradually desensitizes us to the presence of God. The danger of drifting away from God is that you’re miles away before you realize it.

Then there is Peter who fell asleep in Gethsemane, when he should have been praying (Mark 14). Soon after this scene, we know Peter denied Christ three times. Yet, Jesus warned Peter that Satan was after him to “sift him as wheat” (Luke 22:31). Peter’s biggest failure can untimely be traced back to his lack of prayer. A prayer-less Christian is a powerless Christian. 

That brings me back to Eutychus. Look at his position in the text—sitting in a window (20:7-9). In other words, his body was half in the church and half out the church. He was in a compromising place, and when he fell sleep he had a great fall. There are many Christians in this dangerous position—they are trying to keep one foot in the church and one in the world. Of course, James warns adamantly against this lifestyle, “Friendship with the world is enmity with God” (4:3).

One question we need to ask ourselves from this text is this, “Am I sitting in the window?” Are you in a compromising position with the world, while the Devil has lulled you into a slumber?

There are few things more miserable than trying to fight off sleep. Likewise, no one is more miserable than the casual Christian. Adrian Rogers said it best, “The backslider has just enough Christianity to be miserable in a nightclub, and not enough to be happy in a prayer meeting.” If you are “sitting in the widow” you will never have contentment and peace in your spiritual life.

Paul’s resurrection of this young man is a picture not only of salvation, but of God’s grace to slumbering saints. If you are spiritually dead today, God can give you new life in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). If you have become a slumbering saint and experienced a great fall, God wants to restore you and offer you second-chance. As Paul says in Eph. 5:14, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” 

Here’s the good news—Eutychus fell asleep and died, but Paul restored him. Jonah fell asleep, but God got him back on track by way of a great fish and the Word of the Lord came to him a second time. Samson fell asleep and he lost his hair and God’s anointing. But, on the last day his life God gave him another chance, and at his death he killed more of the enemy than he did during his entire life. Peter fell asleep and denied Christ. But God wasn’t done with Him either.


And friend, there’s grace for you too! God’s alarm clock is going off—don’t hit the snooze! -DM

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

God Can Restore Your Lost Years

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A few weeks ago, I was about 75% done with a sermon manuscript, when I decided to step away for a lunch break. Having worked on this sermon for several hours, my brain was in a fog. I had several word documents open and I started closing them out. I can’t even explain now why or how this happened, but by accident I closed out the sermon I was working on without saving it! I even looked at the warning message that said, “Are you want to close without saving?” and for some stupid reason I clicked, “Don’t Save.”

The panic and anger that came over me was intense and immediate. Have you ever seen Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn where Captain Kirk finally realizes the depths of his mortal enemy’s treachery and yells out, “KAHHHHHHN!” (click here)Yeah, it was that bad. NOOOOOOOOO! I was mad enough to eat bees. Here I had worked all morning on this message and poof it was gone!

I started thinking, “There’s got to be a way I can recover it?” So, I went to Google and I searched “document recovery.” Sure enough, I pulled up a tutorial and within a few minutes I had figured out a way to wave a magic wand and make that deleted document reappear. I once was lost, but now I’m found. I breathed a sigh of relief and I exclaimed, “Thank you God!” as this time I was quick to click the “Save” button.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if God had a program like that for our mistakes and regrets in life? Unfortunately, we are trapped on the steadily moving conveyor belt of time and we can’t go back. However, there is a wonderful promise that God spoke through the prophet Joel:

“I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.” (2:25)

In context, the Lord is talking about a swarm of locusts that he sent as judgment upon his rebellious people. The locusts devoured the nation’s crops, which devastated them agriculturally and economically. Yet, in the midst of this calamity, God issued a promise of grace, restoration and hope. A day was coming when God would make up Israel’s losses.  

This is the promise of the Gospel as well—in His timing, all things lost will be recovered. We may not see it all come to pass in this life, but in eternity the promise “to make all things new” is just as steady. So how exactly can God carry out this “operation restoration” in our lives right now?

Well, God can restore lost years by multiplying your fruitfulness. After the locust plague, the Lord blessed the people’s land by giving them bumper crops over the next years. This surplus helped make up the difference. The Lord can do this in your life as well. Ask Him to help you be intentional with the time you have left and make the latter years more productive than the ones wasted in sin and selfish folly. -DM  


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Cop Who Forgave His Killer

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Earlier this year, thousands of people assembled for the funeral of a New York hero—NYPD Detective Steven McDonald. McDonald was on patrol on July 12, 1986, when he spotted a bicycle thief and two other teenagers in Central Park. When he moved to frisk one of them, 15-year-old Shavod Jones shot McDonald three times, with one bullet piercing the officer’s spinal column and leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.

As Steven began to realize the full extent of his injuries, he was overwhelmed with despair and anger. McDonald had a turning point when he turned to Christ and prayed the famous prayer of Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon….” Gradually, his attitude changed, and Steven became an advocate for forgiveness. About six months after the accident, McDonald made a statement about Jones through his wife that defined the rest of his life: “I forgive him and hope he can find peace and purpose in his life.”

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In the years following the shooting, McDonald’s message of forgiveness opened the door for him to travel around the world. He met with Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela, and sat for an interview with Barbara Walters. He also took his message of forgiveness to Israel, Northern Ireland and Bosnia.

When McDonald passed away at age 59, his family encircled him and prayed the Lord’s Prayer focusing especially on this part: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. (Matt. 6:12)[i]

There is nothing closer to Christ-likeness than when we release an offender from an offense. Simply put, forgiven people are forgiving people. If you can’t learn to forgive then you don’t understand the Gospel. As C.S. Lewis has written, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”[ii]

We can’t survive life’s traumas if we don’t learn to forgive others. When we forgive someone, we are not excusing or condoning their actions. We are choosing to release the bitterness that can poison our own personalities. We are letting a ray of compassion break through the clouds so we can forgive as God has forgiven us.

Lewis Smedes wrote, “To forgive is to put down your 50-pound pack after a 10 mile climb up a mountain. To forgive is fall into a chair after a marathon. To forgive is to reach back into your hurting past and recreate it in your memory so that you can begin again. It is to ride the crest of love’s highest wave. To forgive is set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.”[iii]





[i] “Steven McDonald, Paralyzed Police Officer Who Forgave Shooter, Remembered as 'Superman,'” USA Today, 13 January 2017 <https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2017/01/13/paralyzed-detective-who-forgave-shooter-eulogized-as-hero/96547244/>
[ii] Jerry Root and Wayne Martindale, The Quotable C.S. Lewis, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 2012), 221.
[iii] Lewis B. Smedes, “Forgiveness, The Power to Change the Past,” Christianity Today, January 7, 1983, p. 26. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

John Paton: Taking Christ to the Cannibals

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Spear-carrying cannibals setting his house afire, an irate chief stalking him for hours with a loaded musket, a native suddenly rising-up from a sickbed and holding him captive with a dagger to his heart—the life of John Paton reads at times like a lurid adventure story, with the hero saved at the last possible moment by his own death-defying heroics.

John Paton was born in 1824 near Dumfries, Scotland, to a humble, God-fearing family of the Reformed Presbyterian tradition. As the eldest of 11 children, he was forced to leave school at age 12 to work alongside his father in the family trade of stocking-making. Young John was influenced by his father’s prayers, which he said could be heard through the thin walls of the family cottage.

In 1857, when Scotland’s Reformed Church issued a plea for missionaries to the South Pacific, John went to his parents seeking advice. He felt the call of God on his life, and his parents confirmed that when they revealed to their son something they had never before disclosed—John had been dedicated to the mission field while he was in his mother’s womb.

John and his wife, Mary, sailed from Scotland, April 16, 1858, landing on the New Hebrides Islands in November. The Patons found themselves surrounded by “naked and painted wild men” who practiced cannibalism, witch doctoring, child sacrifice and idolatry. A few months after their arrival, Mrs. Paton gave birth to a son, but she suffered immediate attacks of fever and pneumonia. Tragically, Mary died three weeks after giving birth. Two weeks after her death, the little boy succumbed to the same sickness, and John Paton dug a second grave beside the little hut he had built upon their arrival.

Paton toiled on alone for the next four years, coming back to the graves of his wife and son whenever he needed comfort. “That spot became my sacred and much-frequented shrine,” he wrote in his autobiography, “during all the following months and years when I labored on for the salvation of the savage Islanders amidst difficulties, dangers, and deaths. But for Jesus, and the fellowship he granted to me there, I must have gone mad and died beside the lonely grave!”

For the first years, Paton had little success reaching the natives for Christ. But, he kept plodding writing, “I realized that my life was immortal until my Master’s work for me was done.” The turning point came when Paton decided to dig a well for the native tribes. The superstitious people were terrified at the thought of bringing “rain from below” and watched with deepest foreboding.


Paton dug until finally after 30 feet, he tapped into a stream of water. Opposition to his mission work ceased, and the wide-eyed primitives gave him their full respect. Chief Mamokei accepted Christ as Savior, then a few others made their commitment to Christ. On Oct. 24, 1869, nearly 11 years after his arrival, Paton led his first communion service. Twelve converted cannibals participated in the Lord’s Supper. Paton wrote, “As I put the bread and wine into those hands once stained with the blood of cannibalism, now stretched out to receive the emblems of the Redeemer’s love, I had a foretaste of the joy of glory that well nigh broke my heart to pieces.” -DM

Sources:

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997), October 24. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Life During the Millennium

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The Bible describes a thousand-year reign in which Jesus will rule the Earth in perfect peace and justice. Theologians have borrowed a Latin phrase to describe this epoch—“Millennium.” It is made of up two words mille—meaning “thousand”—and annum—meaning “years.” In our English Bibles you won’t find the word “millennium” but you will find a reference to a literal thousand-year period six times in Revelation 20:1-10.

Admittedly, there is not much preaching on the millennium today, which is odd considering the fact that the Bible has so much to say about it. In fact, Dr. Dwight Pentecost, who devoted his entire life to the study of prophecy, wrote: “A larger body of prophetic Scripture is devoted to the subject of the Millennium, developing its character and conditions, than any other one subject. Therefore, the Millennial Age demands considerable attention.”[1]

So what will life be like for those thousand years? If we went through the myriad of verses in the Old Testament that spoke on this subject I think you’d be stunned. Someone has remarked that there is so much written of the Millennial Kingdom that if we were to collect all the verses into a single book they would about the size of the epistles section in the New Testament.
 
·         A time of peace (Is. 2:4)
In the garden of the United Nations headquarters in New York City, stands a dramatic sculpture—actually it’s a 1959 gift from the old Soviet Union—which bears a portion of the words of Isaiah 2:4: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares.” The sculpture shows the figure of a man holding a hammer in one hand, and in the other, a sword that he is beating into a plow. It expresses secular man’s utopian aspiration for world peace.

Yet since that statue was erected we have endured the Vietnam War, The Gulf War, the on-going Israeli-Palestinian conflict, countless tribal wars in Africa, 9/11, the Iraq War and the battle against terrorism. Those hoping for UN to get all the nations of the world to wear peace charms and sing “kum-by-yah” have a better chance of seeing pigs fly.

But here’s the problem with that statue: Isaiah 2:4 has a first part to the verse that is omitted. It begins: “He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people.” Isaiah 2 is about the Second Coming of Christ and the establishing of His millennial reign. They are missing the most important part, namely a person—Jesus Christ!  

Only the Prince of Peace, has the power to make armies lay down their weapons. Have you ever noticed that when Christ gave the disciples the model prayer, He didn’t command them to pray for peace? Instead he told them to pray, “Your kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Only when Christ returns will there be a lasting universal peace, so when you pray and end with those words you are actually invoking the hastening of the Millennial Kingdom.

·         A time of prosperity (Ez. 34:26-27; 36:29-30, 34-35; Joel 2:24; Amos 9:13)
In 2013 the World Health Organization reported that although farmers are able to produce enough food to sustain the world’s 7+ billion people, poverty, war and a host of other problems prevent people from being able to receive a healthy diet. However, during the Millennium it appears that God will remove these hindrances. The entire world will be turned into a kind of paradise reminiscent of the verdant fields of Eden.

The Old Testament prophets filled their writings with imagery of agricultural abundance during this period. Ezekiel speaks of plentiful rainfall, trees loaded with an abundance of ripe fruit and land that once desolate now under the authority of Christ becoming fertile (Ez. 34:26-27). Joel writes that during the Millennium, “The threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil” (2:24).

Amos 9:13 adds another interesting picture, “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.” Notice that Amos says during this time there will be no dead space of winter between planting and harvesting. Imagine harvesting a crop at the beginning of the week and planting another at the end.

·         A time of prolonged life (Is. 65:20; Zech. 8:4-5)
According to the numbers, the average worldwide life expectancy in 2013 was 71 (68 for men and 73 for women). However, in this golden age, people who survived the Tribulation period and come into the Lord’s kingdom will experience longevity like the pre-Flood patriarchs enjoyed in Genesis. Isaiah tells us that a man who is a hundred years old will be considered a child, “No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old” (65:20).  

Zechariah tells us that along with increased years there will also be a baby boom during the Millennium as well, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets” (8:4-5).    

·         A time of praise (Ps. 98:4-9)
During the Millennium the whole world will be filled with praise to Jesus. “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise . . . Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together before the LORD; for he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity” (Ps. 98:4-9).

Some people wonder why it’s important that Jesus reign on earth for 1,000 years in an earthly kingdom. Prophetic scholar, Charles Ryrie answers, “Because Christ must triumph in the same arena where He was seemingly defeated. His rejection by the rulers of this world was on the earth. His exaltation must also be on this earth. And so it shall be when He comes to rule the world in righteousness. He has waited long for His Kingdom; soon He shall receive it.”[2]

-DM



[1] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1958), 476.
[2] Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1986), 511. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Faith Is Not Safe

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Recently, I had the chance to watch the gripping documentary, “Facing Darkness” about the 2014 Ebola outbreak that ravaged the African nation of Liberia (Click here for the trailer). The movie told the life-and-death survivor struggle of Dr. Kent Brantley, who was serving in Liberia with Samaritan’s Purse as a medical missionary during the epidemic. Dr. Brantley became the first American diagnosed with Ebola in late July 2014.   

The 104.9-degree fever caused him to lapse into delirium and nausea. He could not keep down any fluids or food and the uncontrollable diarrhea further weakened his condition. The body aches were nearly unbearable. Because of the isolation that Ebola patients experience as they are quarantined, Brantley said, “Ebola is a humiliating disease that strips you of all your dignity.”[i]

Brantley moved closer to death, when finally, someone suggested that they try giving the doctor a plasma transfusion from an Ebola survivor. In the days before his infection, Brantley had been treating a 14-year-old boy with Ebola, who baffled the doctors and miraculously survived the virus. One of the doctors had the foresight to take a unit of the African boy’s blood with them back to the States.[ii] Doctors in Liberia were able to stabilize Brantley long enough for him to be transported to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, GA via specialized air ambulance.

Amazingly, the plasma donation worked for Dr. Brantley and many have thought it was no accident that the boy who donated the blood was type AB—the universal donor for plasma. Brantley made a full recovery and was discharged from the hospital with a clean bill of health on Aug. 21, 2014. Since his recovery Brantley, donated the plasma in his blood to three more patients in America who contracted the virus. All three survived.[iii]

Towards the end of the film Brantley said something that gave me chills, “People often ask me did your faith save you? I tell them ‘No,’ because faith doesn’t make you safe. My faith was the reason I was in Africa. It was my faith that put me on the front lines. It was faith that put me in the Ebola Treatment Unit.”

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I think Dr. Brantley is absolutely right. It’s our faith that takes us to the front lines, and into the storms. It’s our faith that takes us to places where must rely only on God to get us through. Following Christ is not safe, just look at the people of the Bible. Noah followed God and got caught in a Flood. Abraham followed God and nearly sacrificed his son. Joseph followed God and ended up being thrown into a pit and left for dead. Daniel was nearly eaten in a den of lions. Each of the Apostles gave their lives as martyrs precisely because of their faith.

At the end of Hebrews 11, the great Hall of Faith, we read this, “35 Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”               

Follow Jesus and you may risk your life. Don’t follow Jesus and you will waste your life (Mark 8:36). The cost of following Christ by faith is great. The cost of not following Christ is greater. Faith does not make things easier necessarily, but it does make all things possible. -DM





[i] Dr. Kent Brantly, “This Is What It Feels Like to Survive Ebola,” Time, 5 September 2014 <http://time.com/ 3270016/ebola-survivor-kent-brantly/>
[ii] Sydney Lupkin, “Why Blood Transfusions From Ebola Survivor Dr. Kent Brantley Could Help Patients,” ABC News 14 October 2014 <http://abcnews.go.com/Health/blood-transfusions-ebola-survivor-dr-kent-brantly-patients/story?id=26182136>
[iii] “A Miraculous Day,” Samaritan’s Purse, 21 August 2014 <http://www.samaritanspurse.org/article/samaritans-purse-doctor-recovered-from-ebola/>   

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Miles Coverdale: Tyndale's Finish Man

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This year, Protestants around the world celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. On Truth for Today, we have already looked back on the influence of John Wycliffe, “The Morning Star” of the Reformation (click here) and John Huss (click here) Now we look at another courageous man of faith who led the charge to rescue the Gospel from man-made traditions.

Do you believe that God can answer our prayers before we offer them? That’s what Isaiah 65:24 says, “Before they pray I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.”  

I believe that’s what happened at the end of William Tyndale’s life. Tyndale put his life at risk when he decided to translate the Bible into the English language during the reign of King Henry VIII. The church and government opposed him vehemently, but he told one clergymen, “If God spare my life, I will cause the boy who driveth the plow to know more of the Scripture than thou dost.” On October 6, 1536 he was burned at the stake for his work. His last words were a prayer, “Lord, open the eyes of the King.”

The Bible translation that Tyndale had begun when he was arrested in May 1535 only included the New Testament, the Pentateuch and a few historical books of the Old Testament. England was still without a complete Bible in the English language. Who would finish the work? Because he was imprisoned, Tyndale perished without knowing that the Lord had already answered his prayer—one year earlier, almost to the very day. God had already raised up a new man to finish the work; his name was Miles Coverdale.

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Coverdale, like many of the Reformers of his time, was first an Augustinian monk. And like Luther, Coverdale found a profound emptiness in Catholicism. The turning point for Coverdale came in 1527 when he started studying the Scriptures earnestly looking for the answers to salvation. Not long after his conversion, he soon understood the depths of corruption in the Church. Coverdale wrote, “Upon study of the Scripture I perceived that the reformation of the church must be effected by the Word of God. For wherever the Scripture is known it reformeth all things. And Why? Because it is given by the inspiration of God.”

Using Tyndale's work as his starting point, Coverdale stepped in and filled in the gaps with his own translations based on the Vulgate (the Latin Bible of the Middle Ages) and Luther's German Bible. He worked quickly to piece together a complete English Bible, which was published on October 4, 1535 in Zurich, Switzerland. Coverdale wisely dedicated it to King Henry VIII, who being flattered, allowed it to become the first English rendering of Scripture to circulate without government hindrance—thus answering Tyndale’s prayer a year in advance.  

Without men like Wycliffe, Tyndale and Coverdale willing to sacrifice and risk everything, the English Bible may have never happened or at least been delayed by many years. Next time you open your Bible consider the blood, sweat and tears it cost a few so that you could have access to God’s Word.

Tyndale and Coverdale’s story also highlights an interesting dynamic in the Church—you may be plowing up the hard ground, so that someone else can plant and harvest. What you start for the Lord may be handed off for another servant to finish. We also see this pattern in Scripture: Joshua finished what Moses started by leading the Israelites into the Promised Land, Elijah passed on his prophetic mantle to Elisha, John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, and Jesus invested in the disciples so that they could spread the Gospel over the globe. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). -DM  

Sources
1)      Robert J. Morgan, On This Day (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997), October 4.

2)      <http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1501-1600/coverdale-finished-english-language-bible-11629958.html> 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Worship and the Word

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The book of Nehemiah not only recounts one man’s mission to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem, but it’s also about the revival of the workers who aided in this monumental task. In chapter 9:2-3 we read that, “2 And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. 3 And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the Lord their God.”

Notice that the great catalyst for their revival was when Nehemiah’s people got serious about God’s Word. This may seem obvious, but worship of God goes hand-in-hand with the Word of God, because it’s impossible to worship a God you don’t know anything about. I mention this is because we are living in the most biblically illiterate time period this nation has ever seen.   

In 2016 Albert Mohler of Southern Seminary, published an article called, “The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy,” in which he presented the findings of Barna and Gallup nationwide surveys on Biblical literacy among Christians, listen to some of these results—they are astounding:

Fewer than half of all church-attending adults could name the four gospels. Many Church-goers could not identify more than two or three of the disciples. 60% surveyed could not name even five of the 10 Commandments. 82% affirmed that, “God helps those who help themselves,” is a Bible verse. 50% thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham. They also found that a majority of church-goers don’t even bother bringing their Bible because their pastor only mentions it a few times during the sermon.[i]

Pastors today are often judged more on their ability to make a congregation laugh than on the biblical content of their preaching. There is nothing wrong with joy in the house of God, but I wasn’t called to be a stand-up comedian, but to be a ploughman of God’s Word. The more that we substitute the Word of God with other things in the worship the weaker we become.

In July 2010 an astronomer at the University of Sheffield discovered the brightest star known to mankind. The star, currently named R136a1, is 22,000 light years away, has a mass roughly 265 greater than our sun and the brightness of this star is some 10 million times brighter than the light of our sun! Not even a welder’s helmet would help you face the light from this giant! What made the discovery possible was an incredibly powerful telescope that could bring the distant star into focus. The star had always been there, we just recently had the technology to peer across the universe that vast distance and see her.[ii]



Just like those massively powerful telescopes, the Word of God brings into focus the God of the Word. The Bible is the lens through which we see God’s infinite greatness, glory and goodness. God has always been there—but the Bible magnifies our understanding of God to see what we’ve never seen before and to make Him up close and personal. You can tell revival has come when the people of God have a hunger for the word of God. -DM



[i] Albert Mohler, “The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem,” 20 January 2016
<http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/01/20/the-scandal-of-biblical-illiteracy-its-our-problem-4/>
[ii] Johnathan Amos, “Astronomers Detect Monster Star,” BBC News, 21 July 2010
<http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-10707416> 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Biometrics and the End Times

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A recent news item caught my attention. The headline read, “Wisconsin Company to Install Rice-sized Microchips in Employees.” The article reported that a Wisconsin-based tech company, Three Square, started offering its employees microchip implants that can be used to scan into the building and purchase food at work. CEO Todd Westby said in a company statement rather prophetically, “Eventually, this technology will become standardized allowing you to use this as your passport, public transit, all purchasing opportunities, etc.”[1]

This kind of biometric technology has been in existence for a while. One of the emergent technologies that came out of the 9/11 attacks was a company called VeriChip. As first responders sifted through the rubble for the bodies of victims and survivors, many firefighters and policeman wrote their badge numbers on their bodies, should they become victims. One tech company saw a way to help solve this problem in the future. What if a small RFID (radio-frequency-identification) chip could be placed under the skin, which contained personal information—name, blood type, SSN, etc. By 2004 the FDA approved the VeriChip, a rice-grain sized microchip that can be implanted under the skins of humans and preloaded with all kinds of personal data.

As technology progresses at lightning-fast pace we see biometrics becoming more mainstream.  In the UK, students pay for their lunches by giving a thumbprint scan. They simply place their thumb on the scanner and funds are withdrawn from their prepaid lunch account set up by parents.[2]

Just a few days ago Apple announced the release of its newest smartphone, the iPhone X. The new top-of-the-line model, coming in November, uses your facial features to unlock the phone as well as to authenticate purchases through Apple Pay. Apple calls its flavor of facial recognition Face ID. One article said, “If the idea of unlocking a phone with your face seems creepy, you better get used to it. Facial recognition is here, and it will only be more prevalent in the years to come.”[3]

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The student of Bible prophecy should track these technological developments with Rev. 13 in mind. In that chapter, we get a glimpse of the Antichrist’s evil empire; where in order to participate in the end-time economy one must first receive “the Mark of the Beast.” Rev. 13:16-17 reads, “Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.”

If the tribulation citizens will not worship the Antichrist willingly, then he will force them to bow the knee by hitting them where it hurts the most—their bank account. The people alive during the Tribulation will be forced to make the following choice—either receive the mark of the Beast and worship the Antichrist, or starve to death with no ability to buy or sell.

What is significant is that for the first time in history man has the technological prowess to achieve the marriage of biometrics to an economic market. 50 years ago, it was nearly impossible for anyone to imagine how one man could take the reins of power by controlling people’s purchasing power. But now, with all the technology we have in our digital devices we can see that much of the necessary infrastructure is already integrated into our daily lives. People accept the technology as part-and-parcel of what it means to live in the 21st century, which will make it easier for the Antichrist and False Prophet to go ahead and implement their system in a seamless transition. 

Bible scholar Ron Rhodes says in his book End-Times Super Trends, “Biometrics technology goes hand in hand with our emerging cashless economy…I believe this will be one of the technologies used in the end times as the Antichrist seeks to control who can buy and sell during the tribulation period.”[4]

We are on the cutting edge of having all the technology that the Antichrist and False Prophet need to wire this world together for their evil purposes. The world stage is being set for their appearance and the final act of God’s divine drama is about to begin. That means that the rapture of the church and the coming of the Lord Jesus is getting even closer! Are you ready?

-DM 



[1] Mary Bowerman, “Wisconsin company to install rice-sized microchips in employees,” USA Today, 24 July 2017
<https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/nation-now/2017/07/24/wisconsin-company-install-rice-sized-microchips-employees/503867001/>
[2] Ron Rhodes, End-Times Super Trends (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2017), 204.
[3] Jefferson Graham and Edward C. Baig, “Facial recognition: iPhone today, tomorrow the airport?” USA TODAY, Sept. 14, 2017 < https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/talkingtech/2017/09/14/facial-recognition-iphone-today-tomorrow-airport/664000001/>
[4] Rhodes, 204.